Computer Monitors and Digital Color

color-calibration3About every customer that sends one of their digital photos for photo enlargement likes to work with, or enhance their photos. I don’t blame them. It’s always fun to make digital enhancements and color adjustments to alter the original image. The only problem is that although you would think everyone would realize the enhancements they are seeing on their monitor may only apply to their particular monitor, and they don’t.

This is the way I like to describe the situation. Have you ever walked into an electronics store that displays a wall of TVs all on the same channel? They are all receiving precisely the same color embedded signal, but what a difference there is on the screens. This same principal applies to monitors and digital color. It’s called additive color and the way the color gamut is interpreted depends on how the color generating elements are calibrated.

All digital systems use “color profiles” as a type of standard to generate and display color. Digital image files are usually embedded with a standardized profile to help keep the color consistent during display and printing. This is where color management comes in to play.

The first and most basic step in achieving correct digital color is having some sort or calibration and profiling in use with your monitor. The first part of this process is to take a look at the type and direction of ambient light you are using around the monitor. You should not have any direct light shining on the monitor screen, and using fluorescent lighting will alter displayed colors. Other types of light directly on the screen, especially bright light, will alter the brightness, contrast and color temperature levels of the display.

Next you want to establish at least a basic color profile for the monitor. This will help the colors displayed to be closer to the actual file embedded color. If you are using an image editing program such as Photoshop, you should try to calibrate the monitor first using Adobe Gamma, or whatever system your image editor may provide. Doing this will help to attain correct color, brightness, contrast and color temperature levels.

The monitor profile you set in the operating system should be based on the type of digital image you are working with. As an example we will say you want to set the profile for editing and enhancing digital photos. Virtually all digital cameras use the sRGB color profile as the default color space when capturing photos. You should set your monitor to this color space in the operating system. For Windows systems this can be done as follows: For Windows: exact procedure may be different on various OS and monitors, but the steps will be similar. Open – My Computer > control panel > display > settings > advanced > color management. Click Add > select sRGB Color Space Profile.icm > Add Select sRGB Color Space Profile > Set as Default Click Apply > OK > OK Your monitor should now display the sRGB color space.

If you are using Photoshop for image editing, the next step would be to set up the color management in Photoshop. Different versions of the software may be a slightly different procedure, but similar. Some versions of Photoshop do not support color management. Open Photoshop program: click Edit > Color Settings and setup color settings as shown (click Link) – click OK.

The sRGB IEC61966-2.1 is an enhanced sRGB profile, which will give your digital photos just a little more vibrant color. Photoshop will interpret the color profile set for your monitor, read the embedded profile in the digital photo and convert to the enhanced sRGB profile, and display the photo correctly. When you make enhancements to the photo, what you see on the screen will be much closer to how the photo will be printed on a system that is completely color managed, such as the system we use for printing photo enlargements.

The best method for calibrating and profiling monitors is to use software and hardware systems that are dedicated to this purpose. While not extremely expensive, the cost can be somewhat substantial, depending on how deep your pockets can go. This is by far the best way to achieve correct digital color when coupled with a good color management system.

About the Author
Mike Kruske established PhotoArt Imaging Digital Arts Center in 1997 specializing in Photo Enlargement, Digital Photo Enlargement and Wide Format Digital Photo Printing of Digital Images. This targeted experience provides a unique insight into digital photo processing for large format print output. More info here: PhotoArt Photo Enlargement and Digital Photo Printing

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One response to “Computer Monitors and Digital Color”

  1. Sean Mullins says:

    I must admit, even though I’m from a technical background, I find the whole issue of color management pretty confusing.
    I only recently found out that although I had been using the spyder 2 hardware device to calibrate my monitor, because I hadn’t gone in and changed the Photoshop Color settings (The calibration process install led me to believe this wasn’t necessary) most of my work was in vain.

    Interestingly, I tested your tip,
    If I set the sRGB directly in Photoshop Color I get pretty bad (severly oversatuated) results –
    If instead I select Monitor color (after setting Windows to use sRGB colour space as you show above) I get much better results, very close to using the spyder calibration profile,
    even though I would have expected both to give the same result.

    So I guess I’m still confused about color management!!

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